Airman charged with DUI speaks at own memorial service

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- As Staff Sgt. Anthony Wilson gave a speech beside the flag-draped coffin of Senior Airman Larry Mitchell, he couldn't hear the last regrets of the 26-year-old Airman.

If that was possible, he would've heard, "This can't be happening. I thought I only had a few beers. What was I thinking, driving with a .2 blood alcohol level? I even had other people in the car."

But this was a mock memorial and because Airman Mitchell was alive, he was able to share these thoughts with a hangar full of fellow 723rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron members.

"The night I decided to drink, drive and go 71 mph in a 45 mph zone with passengers was a terrible night," said Airman Mitchell, who was taken into custody early July 18 when he refused a BAC test. "I've always thought something like this wouldn't happen to me because I considered myself a good Airman.

"But it did happen and because of it I spent hours wearing an orange jumpsuit, something else I thought would never happen," he added.

Once his supervisor, Sergeant Wilson, picked him up from jail, he had to explain everything that had happened.

"I had to explain I was the designated driver but still sat down at the bar and drank alcohol," said Airman Mitchell. "I had to explain why I still got behind the wheel and let passengers in my car before starting to drive way too fast while way too intoxicated."

One of the most daunting parts of the aftermath was who he had to explain all this to- Master Sgt. Robert Sams and Lt. Col. John Frazier.

"It was unbelievably embarrassing going before my first sergeant and commander in blues and explaining exactly how badly I messed up," Airman Mitchell said. "It was the worse feeling in the world to confess I endangered not only my life, but the lives of my fellow Airmen. With my BAC being .2, there's absolutely no way I could have safely driven."

After explaining it to his leadership, he was put before another audience- his entire squadron.

"It was a mandatory formation with everybody in service dress uniform on a Saturday morning," said Airman Mitchell. "The thought of that alone lets you know how serious it was. I stood at attention in front of the entire squadron and Colonel Frazier let them know how I had screwed up. It was embarrassing and I felt so bad."

But then Colonel Frazier challenged the Airman with turning a negative situation into a more positive one- finding a way to educate the base.

Once Airman Mitchell completed the 12-week Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment program, he developed the idea for the mock memorial service as a new way to help with ADAPT outreach.

Through the service, he lets the audience know about the process he went through to get there, as well as what it cost him.

"I paid more than $3,000 for classes, fees and getting my license reinstated," said Airman Mitchell. "I lost money, but I also lost respect.

"I could have called Sober Ride, my supervisor or anybody else on the recall roster," he said. "By taking a risk and making the decision not to call anyone was the stupidest thing I've ever done. It wasn't worth the risk and it had a large impact on my Air Force career."

After the mock memorial service was complete, the ADAPT staff let two audience members try on fatal vision goggles and drive a golf cart to test their ability to drive while impaired. Both of them had trouble opening the cart's door or even starting the engine.

The ADAPT program was designed to help Airmen deal with substance abuse by providing comprehensive clinical services, including counseling and treatment. Airmen are encouraged to seek help and can self-refer themselves for an assessment by calling 229-257-3898. When diagnosed, the Airmen will receive a treatment plan.